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Reading Your Work in Public: Tips For Success

Whether you’re organising your own reading or you’re invited to read at an event, every writer unfortunately needs to be prepared to face the public. It’s a scary thing. You could, I suppose, get by without it and be the hermit-recluse-type—but it’s as much a promotional thing as anything else, especially as an unknown (not-yet-famous) writer.

People tend to buy books at events where they can get the author to sign and dedicate it to them, even if they were ambivalent about it before. You might even wow the crowd so much with your reading that they rush to buy more of your work (one dreams)!

Here are some tips to make your reading a success.

Reading your work in public

Nail down places, dates and times

You definitely want to show up at the right place at the right time and on the right day.

Also ask if there is a sound check or any form of pre-event prep that you could attend just to get a feel of the place, understand how the microphones (if any) work, and to release some last-minute jitters.

If they can give you a run sheet of the event, even better! Then you’ll know who you’re reading after, how much time you have to panic in the bathroom before it’s your turn, and how much time you have to read.

Tip: The more prepared you are mentally, emotionally, and physically, the better you’ll do.


Choose Your Story/Excerpt

Who are you going to be reading to and/or what’s the audience like?

If it’s a children’s event, pick something fun and exciting and maybe a little weird (kids like boogers and poo and dinosaurs). You’re unlikely to get these invites unless you write for children, though.

At a general event, find out what’s the age range of people who are likely to turn up. You don’t want to pick something racy or full of swearing only to find that there are minors in the audience and you need to censor yourself. Though you might still need to censor yourself at a public event with or without under-eighteens.

Pick a story, or a portion of a story, that’s exciting! Make sure something is happening and it’s not just all descriptions. Dialogue is good, but can be a little tricky—you might have to add in some additional dialogue tags for the reading, especially if you don’t do voices (as in, read each person’s dialogue in a different voice/tone). If you’re reading an excerpt that’s in the middle of the story, plan a brief explanation of who the characters are and how they got to where they are.

Tip: An exciting, action-filled excerpt is usually a crowd-pleaser.


Rehearse Reading!

Most of the time, reading events are organised waaaaaay in advance. Which means you’ll have at least two weeks to a month (or more) to practice what you’re going to read. Do it.

Read it aloud several times and time yourself. Besides making sure it fits the time allocated, you also get to see how consistent you are in your reading speeds. Underline tricky words or passages. Mark up places you should slow down or speed up. Put in the crescendo and decrescendo points.

If that sounds like drama or choral reading, it is.

Tip: Think about it as storytelling.

I know, I know, people call it a “reading” because you’re reading from a book or something that you’ve written down before. You’re not some kind of oral storyteller of old or performer.


And this is an important but, reading straight from the text and reading as performance has very different impacts. Think about all the boring readers or preachers you know and you’ll find that they always speak in the same tone of voice and at the same unvarying speed, usually really slow. And droning.

What makes storytelling exciting? Injecting drama into the piece. Whether that means lowering your voice at tense times, speeding up with the action, or actually shouting when the character shouts, this helps to engage the audience. And that’s what you want, even if you’re “just” reading a passage from your book.


Turn up. Early.

Budget to arrive at least 15-20 minutes before the event (or the pre-event check) because delays always happen and then you’ll be right on time, instead of late. (Or at the least let someone know if you’re going to be late because of unforeseen circumstances so they don’t panic when you don’t arrive when they expect you to.)

Tip: Even if you don’t panic if you’re late, the organisers will, and that makes for bad mood/feelings overall.


As mentioned earlier, reading your work can be a key marketing or promotional tool, so the last tip is this:

Remember to bring along copies of your books!


If you’re looking to read from your work, or want to attend one to see what it’s about, check out Readings @ Seksan.